As they walked down the MIT side of Memorial Drive with the Charles River on their left, a beer-buzzed McHugh playfully pushed Donovan into walkers, joggers, and other passers-by who were enjoying the 75-degree evening weather. Velez — who, according to acquaintances, was "harmless alone, but an instigator when surrounded by friends and fueled with alcohol" — walked off to the side.
The three continued heading west, at one point stopping briefly to swallow their pride and apologize after McHugh hip-checked Donovan into a large man with an athletic build. Although he could have likely walloped the troublemakers on his own, the runner spared them, and even after scolding them engaged in small talk with the teens about the Led Zeppelin tune blaring through his headphones.
Their next encounter wouldn't end so passively. At about 9:45 pm, right before the boys approached the Harvard Bridge, they ran into two Norwegian MIT students, 21-year-old Yngve Raustein and 22-year-old Arne Fredheim, who were, according to Fredheim's testimony, also slightly intoxicated, conversing, and paying little attention to sidewalk traffic.
Moving swiftly from the Thirsty Ear Pub on MIT's West campus to the Muddy Charles Pub on East campus, Raustein and Fredheim passed between the East Cambridge kids, leaving Donovan in the middle to bump shoulders with Raustein. Still insecure about backing down to the jogger minutes earlier, Donovan turned to the students, who had walked on about 20 feet, and demanded an apology. In a weak moment, Donovan was likely attempting to live up to stories he'd heard about his rugged merchant-marine grandfather and his great-grandfather, Johnny Donovan, a New England lightweight boxing champ from South Boston. Before Raustein and Fredheim could make peace, Donovan, who was also aggravated at what he perceived as two college boys laughing at him in a foreign language, stepped to them. Then, without warning, Donovan cocked back his right arm, punched Raustein in the temple, and knocked the Norwegian to the ground, injuring his own outside knuckles in the process.
Although Donovan never yelled for backup, his co-defendants jumped into action, escalating what would have been an assault-and-battery charge into first a robbery and then the unthinkable. As Donovan bent over in pain, squeezing his injured fist between his thighs, he saw Velez instruct Fredheim to surrender his wallet. At the same time, in the darkness and about 15 feet away (and, Donovan claims, unbeknownst to him), McHugh thrust his new seven-and-a-half-inch spring-loaded buck knife through Raustein's heart, then wiped the blade on his victim's shirt and stole his wallet.
Immediately after the roughly 30-second fracas, Donovan bolted across Memorial Drive and over the Harvard Bridge into Boston. McHugh and Velez fled the scene as nearby witnesses began shouting, eventually tossing the stolen wallets into the Charles. They soon caught up to Donovan, who stopped running but was walking quickly to escape from what he believed was the scene of an assault and robbery.
Less than 10 minutes later, the three assailants stopped at a Beacon Street Li'l Peach at the intersection of Mass Ave. Donovan was still nervous, but didn't think Boston cops would bother chasing down teenagers who jumped someone across the river. Plus, they figured they were safe since Velez and McHugh had tossed the stolen wallets in the river.